Paris. June 1815.
Princess Anastasia Denisova took careful aim with the hammer.
“Anya, no! Not the tiara!”
Anya sent her best friend a quick glance, then returned her attention to the glittering headpiece in front of her. “We can’t hide it like this. We need small, unidentifiable pieces.”
Elizaveta groaned, apparently resigned to the inevitable, and Anya quashed a pang of guilt for destroying something so undeniably lovely. Still, a piece of broken jewelry was the least of their troubles. With a silent apology to the artist who’d made such a beautiful thing, she brought the hammer down with a sickening crunch.
The gold setting crumpled and a couple of pea-sized diamonds skittered across the wooden table. Elizaveta made a dive for the nearest one before it shot onto the floor. Anya hit the metal a few more times to loosen the rest of the gems, trying not to wince at the destruction, and scooped the diamonds into a small pile in front of her.
Elizaveta groaned again in protest. “We’ve already sewn jewels into our skirts. And your cloak. We don’t need to swallow them too.”
“You’ve seen what it’s like out there. People are getting desperate. We must take precautions.” Anya reached for the baguette on the table, ripped out a piece of the soft center, and pushed one of the smaller diamonds into the lump of bread.
Elizaveta watched her with grim fascination. “But how will we retrieve them?”
“By sifting through the contents of our bedpans, I suppose.” Anya smiled at her horrified grimace.
Elizaveta drew herself up, her expression stern. “You are a princess of Russia! Second cousin to the tsar. Tenth in line to the throne! You shouldn’t be poking around in—”
“Shit?” Anya supplied with a snort.
Anya chuckled. “Is not befitting a princess. I know.” She sobered as the grim reality of their situation reasserted itself. “But there are worse things than sifting through bedpans.”
Elizaveta reached over and gave her arm a sympathetic squeeze. “Well, when you put it like that—”
“Exactly.” Anya tossed the bread ball to the back of her throat, took a mouthful of water from a nearby teacup, and swallowed.
A week ago she’d never have considered destroying the family heirlooms.
A week ago Dmitri hadn’t been dead.
Her brother had come to Paris following Napoleon’s abdication last year, attached to the Russian envoy, Carl Osipovich Pozzo di Borgo. When Bonaparte had been exiled to the island of Elba, Dmitri had deemed it safe for Anya to join him in the French capital for some shopping and sightseeing, and she’d jumped at the chance.
Paris was everything Anya had dreamed it would be: thrilling, fashionable, exotic. They’d visited galleries and museums, attended salons and balls. The past few months had been a giddy whirl of picnics by the Seine and trips to the modiste.
Napoleon’s audacious escape from his island prison had smashed that pleasant idyll. Dmitri had been away, assisting at the Congress in Vienna, and Anya had been naively certain that Bonaparte would be stopped long before he reached Paris. When Marshal Ney defected, and turned a large part of the “Royalist” French army over to his former commander, it had come as a nasty shock.
Then the troops stationed outside the city walls had defected, and King Louis had abandoned the city. Elizaveta had urged Anya to do the same, but Anya hadn’t wanted to leave for St. Petersburg without Dmitri. His last letter, dated ten days ago, had said he was accompanying di Borgo to Belgium to liaise with the British commander, Wellington.
And then news had come of the battle, near the Belgian town of Waterloo. The allied British and Prussian troops had defeated Napoleon, but at a terrible human cost.
Anya told herself there was no need to worry about Dmitri. He was a diplomat, not a soldier. He wouldn’t have been anywhere near the battlefield. He was just too busy to write, that was all. She considered travelling to Brussels herself, but there wasn’t a carriage to be had—almost every wheeled conveyance was being used by panicked citizens to leave the capital. And how could she hope to find him in all the confusion? No, she would stay in Paris and wait for him to come to her.
Anya stared down at the glittering stones on the table. She barely recalled the visit from General di Borgo. All she remembered was the blood leeching from her face when he’d told her of Dmitri’s death. The sick dread that had clutched her heart, Elizaveta’s arms around her as her grief escaped in noisy, gasping sobs.
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